Overtime: On Cleveland and 2016

Originally published in The Fordham Ram on October 26, 2016.

LeBron James

LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first-ever title this spring. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

This year has been terrible. One of your favorite people undoubtedly died. We’re about to replace the objectively coolest president ever with one of two painfully uncool candidates. There have been shootings across the country and terrorist attacks across the world. Drake ruined what looked like the best year for rap music ever by releasing Views. The UK voted to Brexit the EU, meaning a major historical event will be referred to with a pun.

In fact, 2016 could be described as the “Cleveland” of years. And yet for some odd reason, that’s the city experiencing a sports renaissance.

Cleveland is not supposed to have nice things. It’s in the city’s DNA to be the Newark of the Midwest, but with more soul-crushing sports disappointments. So don’t be surprised that I’m a little suspicious of the fact that while the rest of the country is turning into the United States of Cleveland, Cleveland is turning into Boston circa 2004.

So how did this happen? Maybe Clevelanders burned a Dan Gilbert effigy in the flaming Cuyahoga River.

More likely, someone cut a deal. Maybe it was Tyronn Lue trying to get everyone to forget about that time Allen Iverson disrespected him more than any human has ever been disrespected on a basketball court. Considering his rise to head coach, it would make sense, but then you remember AI is the devil’s favorite player.

No one on the Indians has the kind of clout to even exchange Instagram DMs with the devil, so this isn’t their doing.

There’s only one answer: LeBron made a deal with the devil. Not only did he get to have his redemptive career arc — The Chosen One bringing one to his pseudo-hometown — but he also was in Trainwreck, and a basketball player being good in a movie hasn’t been done since Michael Jordan in Space Jam. Also, he clearly got hair plugs and no one has said a single word, which is some type of devil magic for sure.

What did LeBron give the devil in exchange? The entirety of 2016.

Look at all the evidence: LeBron leaving to go to Miami in 2010 was the single greatest encapsulation of the Cleveland experience: man tries to do good in the city with basically no help, does as well as can be expected but “fails” and then finally bolts to a place people actually want to live and is almost immediately successful. My conspiracy theory about The Decision is that LeBron wanted to show the people of Cleveland that they too could decide to leave a place literally called “The Mistake on the Lake.”

Even in the 2014-15 season when LeBron decided that he for some reason wanted to come back to Cleveland, it looked like everything was back to normal, with him trying, and ultimately failing, to drag the Cavaliers to a championship all over again. Cleveland was at the lowest possible low.

But then this year — this year of all years — their luck suddenly changed. The same year ESPN literally made a 30 for 30 about how a major Cleveland sports team had not won a championship since 1964, the Cavs overcame a 3-1 deficit in the Finals against what seemed to be the best team in NBA history. They not only won a championship, but they also did it directly in the face of what looked like just another Cleveland disappointment.

“That’s nice,” we all thought, and we were sincere. Cleveland breaking their championship drought meant that we could start bagging on San Diego, where the gorgeous weather and people had to be gorgeous around two teams with a decidedly less gorgeous zero championships.

But then Cleveland got greedy, and we got suspicious. All of a sudden, the Indians are going to play in the World Series against the Cubs. The freaking Indians, who had two movies starring Charlie Sheen made about their ineptitude, are the only team standing between the Cubs and their first World Series ring since 1908. It’s like getting away with stealing a candy bar at a bodega and deciding to steal the ATM the next time you’re there.

What’s even shadier is that they’re doing it in such a non-Cleveland way. By that, I mean they’re actually overcoming the obstacles put in front of them like they aren’t the antithesis of a Disney sports movie. Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco went down with injuries right before the postseason started. Trevor Bauer mangled his finger fixing a drone during the ALCS. They still have a racist team name and logo. And yet, here they are.

This is too much. “God Hates Cleveland” isn’t just a saying, it’s a symbol for order still existing in this world. On the same night the Indians won the ALCS, the third presidential debate was going on, with candidates bickering like children on a road trip. God has been loving Cleveland, and now hates everything else. I can’t stand for this.

So my conclusion: LeBron traded the entirety of 2016 to the devil for a ring and a title shot for the Indians.

The Browns are still awful though. There’s no saving them.

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